Joint Finance Votes to Reduce Transportation Spending, But Does Not Fill Budget Hole

Committee Motion Largely Ignores Walker’s Plan to Fix Deficit by Delaying Major Projects in Southeast Wisconsin

“Not Done With DOT Yet”

MacIver News Service | April 30, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] After numerous delays waiting for a grand compromise to take shape, the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) passed a motion late Tuesday that reduces spending and increases revenue for the Department of Transportation (DOT) but does not fix the projected 2013-2015 budget deficit.

On Friday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau announced that the DOT is facing a $63.5 million deficit and JFC’s motion only cuts spending by $7.2 million, increases revenue by $1.9 million, and reduces bond revenue by $2.8 million.

This is in stark contrast to a plan released by Governor Scott Walker’s administration on Monday that reduces transportation spending by $93.5 million and makes the transportation fund whole.

During the executive session on Tuesday, JFC had several extended recesses because the majority party was crafting an omnibus motion. An omnibus motion lumps multiple motions into one, instead of voting on each proposal separately.

The motion, which passed 12-4, includes an $8 million reduction in bonding authority for the Freight Rail Preservation Program, a $5.2 million increase in bonding authority for the Harbor Assistance Program, and a $1.1 million decrease in funding for the Hiawatha Amtrak route between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The motion cut spending by $1.4 million for State Patrol training for recruits and $3.8 million for motor carrier inspectors. It also increases revenues $1.9 million by increasing the OWI driver improvement surcharge by $70 and allocates more of that charge to the state instead of the counties.

Missing from the debate today was the part of Governor Walker’s plan to fill the deficit by delaying megaprojects, including work on the I-94 North-South and Zoo Interchange projects and the Ryan Road Interchange. Delaying preliminary work on these projects would have saved the state $67 million dollars but would not have jeopardized their completion dates according to the Department. The only part of Walker’s plan to pass in the omnibus motion was the $1.1 million reduction in funding for the Hiawatha route.

JFC did reduce the amount of spending from Walker’s original budget proposal, and finance member Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) would like to see more reductions.

“My goal is to pass a budget that protects taxpayers, fosters economic growth, and enhances opportunities for all citizens. Today we moved closer by cutting total spending, cutting bonding, and cutting the number of state employees,” Knudson told the MacIver News Service.

Knudson also made it clear that JFC is not done with DOT’s budget and “has yet to address much of the Governor’s proposed bonding.”

JFC will next meet on May 9.